With Microsoft’s bombshell acquisition of Activision Blizzard announced this morning, on top of its other big purchases in recent years, the Xbox family is well beyond stacked. With its competition’s first-party lineup growing and subsequently shrinking selection of big third-party partners, Sony has a challenge ahead of it, to say the least. However, instead of staying toe-to-toe with Xbox by acquiring studios to keep up, it’s more important right now for Sony to develop a rival to Microsoft’s biggest boon this generation: Xbox Game Pass.
On paper, Microsoft has the option to wall off franchises like Warcraft, Diablo, and Call of Duty as Xbox console exclusives. Instead, in reality, every existing game from those massive names is up for grabs to use in Game Pass, as demonstrated by the Bethesda absorption in 2020. PCs, consoles, cloud streaming through browsers and mobile; all can deliver a classic Modern Warfare campaign or matches of Overwatch. It’s easy to compare how many studios and IP are now at the disposal of Xbox compared to Sony, but Microsoft’s real and considerable advantage is the ease of access the average consumer has to its games.
Fortunately, Sony already has a lot of pieces in place to implement a Game Pass-like service, and if rumblings around the industry are to be believed, it might happen sooner than later. Games should, of course, be the core offering, and PlayStation Now is a near-decade old way to deliver those games to a wide audience. Through this subscription, you can already stream games to PlayStation and PC. Unbeknownst to many people, a lot of PS Now games are downloadable, though only PS2 and PS4 titles work this way. Ideally, this would change.
Sony has one hell of a back catalog of classic games that would convince people to subscribe to an all-access PlayStation subscription service. An essential piece of making a Game Pass competitor work is figuring out the lingering backward compatibility issues holding Sony back from making PS1 and PS3 games available on current hardware. Once that’s possible, the sky is the limit for what enticing products to put on the service. Nostalgia is a powerful weapon, and letting folks play all of the generations of God of War, Twisted Metal, Warhawk, and, if the license is available, Final Fantasy with one subscription is awfully enticing.
Next would be an expansion of the PlayStation Plus Collection to include the library of PlayStation Now games and wrapping them into PlayStation Plus pricing. It is no longer acceptable to pay for online play on its own, and that feature should be absorbed into a super service with one cost and one expansive digital library with games that can be streamed or downloaded. A reasonable simplification of the disparate pieces Sony already has available.
And we’re haven’t even talked about Sony’s secret sauce for this revamped PlayStation Plus. Remember, Sony isn’t just a games company. Sony movies, TV shows, and music will be the x-factor, bringing the breadth of its content to entice potential subscribers. Catch the latest Spider-Man flick because it happens to be wrapped in the cost of your game sub. Funimation and Crunchyroll, two popular anime companies, are already under the Sony umbrella and could be easily used to flex the unique entertainment available with a membership. It’s not just about games anymore, and Sony should have the foresight to use everything on hand to differentiate itself.
All of the pieces are there to compete without spending billions buying another game publisher: A potential killer catalog, game streaming, movies, anime, music. A few technical hurdles and great licensing partnerships may be the few obstacles that stand in the way of having a functional and distinctive Game Pass competitor. Sony’s not out of the game because it may not have Call of Duty in a few years, but it needs to adapt the services it provides before it’s left in the dust.